Comments: opinion

Re Alex Willmott's article, anyone who has spent any time at all in the institutional church knows that there are clergy who should never have been ordained, or at least placed in parish ministry. Sadly there are more than enough examples of clergy who leave a trail of bruised,dysfunctional and conflicted communities in their wake. However,in terms of making a contribution to understanding the relationship between church leadership and church decline, Willmott's piece is pretty much amateur hour. And, his routine is neither new nor innovative.

Clearly, as a major western social institution, the churches of the reformation are in catastrophic decline. One of the sobering vectors in this is that despite evangelism programs, despite classical or hip liturgies, despite churches that strive for transcendence and those advertise themselves as welcoming, the basic belief system of the church is no longer accepted as credible and meaningful by the majority of society. Leadership is something of a variable within a church in crisis. Two things. (1)Decline may actually be impacting leadership more than leadership impacts decline. (2) There are a great many clergy who are working with dedication, skill, tenacity, and self-sacrifice to provide leadership in terms of care and community building despite the crisis of decline.

Suggesting that ministry that mimics hawking product will halt decline is lot like ordering divisions that don't exist into the field.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Saturday, 8 November 2014 at 4:31pm GMT

I agree with Kelvin's post. When we join any group, other than the church, it is an individual choice. But with church we are called into community. It's difficult, though, to jettison the individuality at times and 'fit in'. All types of people come to church and it's a challenge I would guess for most pastors to find people their place.

Posted by Pam at Saturday, 8 November 2014 at 9:09pm GMT

I find Alex Willmott's piece so exasperating that I actually find it very hard to assess whether he might actually, underneath all that wrong-headed bluster, possibly have something like a point. His idea that the church is anything like a commercial enterprise and that the kind of leadership skills demanded of a CEO are the same that we should look for in a priest is so misguided that I can only sincerely hope that he is not in holy orders himself. The secular model of 'leadership' favoured in boardrooms and executive suites these days is the very last thing that the church should look for. Moreover, the idea that parish clergy should stand at the top of the pile bossing around their underlings and conveying orders from on high is, to speak charitably, a trifle naive. Anyone with any real experience of parishes will know that they almost never work like that (and a good thing too). It is also contrary to the historic Christian understanding of the church, which is corporate in a rather more literal sense than the organisations Willmott seems to have in mind.

If I think his 'managerial' vision of Christian leadership is faulty, I'm also unimpressed by his vision of what might constitute success in a Christian sense. If the measure of success for churches is purely a numbers game, then the whole of Western Christianity over the last century or more must be considered a busted flush and its priests should presumably pack it in and find more productive employment in the private sector. This, actually, is where I suspect Willmott might have a shadow of a point. Numbers aren't everything, but they're not nothing either. They are one measure of success for congregations, and one sign of a prospering church is its ability to hold out against the melancholy long withdrawing roar. Quite why Willmott thinks that this is a responsibility that lies solely in the hands of clergy, however, he doesn't say.

Posted by rjb at Sunday, 9 November 2014 at 5:15am GMT

Intellectually, I agree almost completely with Rod Gillis' second paragraph. The disagreement: it's not just the Reformation churches. Major problem, however: most existing Christians don't assent to this analysis. Lesser problem, intellectually, rejigging Christian basics in a more credible direction. Ergo, the task is to make Christianity more intellectually credible, while keeping as many existing Christians as possible on board. Paradoxically, I believe, that is best done by maintaining the Eucharist as key Christian service, while allowing very considerable divergence in its interpretation.

Posted by John at Sunday, 9 November 2014 at 7:18pm GMT

It was funny reading the 'heresies' of American evangelicals. As if it makes the slightest difference whether you sign on that particular dotted line or not as promoted by that website. None of it explains anything about the workings of the world we live in anyway.

Posted by Pluralist at Sunday, 9 November 2014 at 8:33pm GMT

Can someone explain to Alex Wilmott what preaching Christ crucified means?

Posted by The Rev'd Mervyn Noote at Sunday, 9 November 2014 at 9:52pm GMT

Wilmott may not have the right model for a healthy parish, but most of the commenters here seem willing to abandon any sense of accountability for the ordained ministry.

Surely there are sufficiently well-understood signs of a healthy congregation for assessment to be a worthwhile activity in a congregation.

I am familiar with a parish where the rector has convinced the vestry that their job is not to care for the health of the congregation but to provide her with unquestioning job security. There has been no assessment of the effectiveness of leadership or of the health of the congregation in years.

The result is that membership is aging and dwindling in a part of the city where the population is growing. Under other leadership, this parish has a history of growth, outreach, and dedication. Under current leadership, it is dying.

Assessment, done thoughtfully, keeps people honest, alert, creative, fresh. I'm all for it.

Posted by jnwall at Monday, 10 November 2014 at 8:14pm GMT

@ jnwall, I don't think that's it. If Alex Willmott argued, as some others have, how conventional ministry models must be replaced with new and described innovative ones, then he could expect to get a hearing. Instead he presents as a vague anecdotalist with an ax to grind. He telegraphed his haymaker with the opener, " An open letter to U.K. churches from a nobody". A nobody? Cry me a river.

Church decline is rooted in the disparate and perhaps irreconcilable differences in beliefs and mores between traditional Christianity and the wider society in western democracies. The decline is altering leadership models. An aging church with its attendant financial crisis is producing a new type of clergy in a growing number of places, elderly, non-stipendiary, and palliative oriented. One might ask if this model is better suited to extending the life of current parochialism than an expensive salaried clergy trained in a theological college. However, one might also ask if this emerging model will provide the educated skilled leadership required to lead the church past its obviously moribund institutional model and into a new cultural adaptation.

Marginal views like Willmott's fail to recognize that even well commanded, well equipped and highly motivated forces can lose the war because of profound systemic geo-politcal issues. It's something we've learned from Iraq and Afghanistan. Willmott needs a better analogy. No amount of Sam Slick sales acumen is going to move swimwear at the North Pole.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Tuesday, 11 November 2014 at 2:44pm GMT
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